One of my favourite books as a child was The Emperor’s New Clothes, written by Hans Christian Andersen in 1837. (Spoiler alert) The story, more or less, is about two tailors who make an emperor a special suit. They explain that to stupid, ignorant and unbecoming individuals, this special suit appears invisible. In reality, they make no suit at all and the emperor walks around proudly naked, thinking he is wearing the most remarkable suit. Everyone is so worried about being called stupid, ignorant or being shouted down, that they go along with the farce, only for a little boy to call out the truth of the matter – the emperor is indeed not wearing anything at all and is naked.
Education can be a revelation, but it can also be a straight jacket. When being ‘taught’ something new, whether in school or in work, we all tend to accept the information we are given, regardless of the accuracy or usefulness of it. We do not want to rock the boat, or challenge authority. Even when our inner voice is shouting at us that this cannot be right, we simply continue to smile and maybe go home to tell a family member about the experience. However, in that moment, we went along with it.
Similarly, from a young age we are generally conditioned to ‘listen to our elders’. What if the elders are simply wrong? When a child challenges convention and asks why, or expresses an opinion not accepted from others, should we admonish the child for being rude or speaking out of turn, or should we embrace this opportunity for discussion?
Regardless, what topics are open for discussion? The weather? Science? Cricket? Politics? Religion? Gender Identity? Most people have a pressure point when discussing an area close to their heart and find it difficult to accept any challenge to their way of thinking. So, if a child asks a question linked to this pressure point, it is understandable that we often react and try to make sure they see things our way. We all have wired our own brains to ensure certain neural pathways are followed. We just cannot help it. Or can we?
I challenge you to identify your pressure point of discussion, a topic that makes you uncomfortable, and to allow a young person to explore the topic through discussion. Perhaps through this conversation you may find that the emperor indeed is not wearing any clothes and that the young person has given you the freedom to see things for what they truly are.